12/08/2008 12:00AM

Super High Five strategies


One year ago, Santa Anita introduced the Super High Five wager and many predicted it would be gone before the end of the meet. In an era where betting menus are overcrowded with exotic wagering options, few believed that the new bet would attract much interest or create any buzz.

Flashing forward, the Super High Five may not be as popular as the pick six, but it has a core of ardent followers, is gaining ground in popularity, and is spreading to other tracks, including Hollywood Park, Keeneland, Turfway Park, Churchill Downs, and Calder; with more to come.

I find the bet intriguing, even though it can resemble a crapshoot and my first experience with it last winter was decidedly negative.

On my way out of Vegas to visit family back east, I mapped out a $360 play accenting two horses in the top four, only to find out that the local racebooks had not yet programmed their expensive computers to take the $1 bet. Very annoying to say the least, yet, "annoying" hardly described my feelings after finding out that my play would have hit for $21,000.

With that, I was sure the bet would become a marketing failure for Magna Entertainment. But I was dead wrong. The wagering pools are gaining some traction at tracks offering it, Nevada race books have resolved their programming issues, and a wide network of simulcast tracks have climbed aboard.

It is quite a modern wager when you consider that it offers a shot at a meaningful score without the benefit of a safety net. There is no consolation payoff in the Super High Five. You either hit it, or your tickets are worthless. If you have the top four finishers in correct order, but do not have the horse who finished fifth, you lose. No part of the pool is reserved for those who come oh so close.

But I still like this bet and have been studying it, gaining insights, I think, on how to play it, insights that I fully expect to test in the near future. In the meantime, please feel free to try out some of the suggested Super High Five wagering strategies with or without some tinkering of your own.

Wagering Strategies

Even though this is a $1 unit wager, I do not recommend getting involved in the Super High Five for less than $48 and frankly, my initial research suggests that $72-$196 is a minimum range of investment for a fair chance to collect.

w Situation A: You like a horse as a serious win key in a 10-horse field and see a few horses who are plausible contenders to finish in the top four.

I would play this as a pseudo trifecta or superfecta, while trying to gain a little wiggle room with each succeeding level of finish.

Key horse A; with contenders b,c,d; with b,c,d,e; with b,c,d,e,f; with All (162 combinations, $162)

Or key horse A; with b,c; with b,c,d,e; with b,c,d,e,f; with All ($108).

Or key horse A; with b,c,d; with b,c,d; with b,c,d,e,f; with All ($108).

Or key horse A; with b,c,d; with b,c,d,e; with b,c,d,e,f,g; with b,c,d,e,f,g,h ($144).

Or key horse A; with b; with c,d; with c,d,e,f,g with All ($48) in tandem with keying horse A; with c,d; with b; with c,d,e,f,g; with All ($48). Combined total: $96.

w Situation B: You like two horses to dominate the race and have loose opinions on the rest of the field:

Key horses A and B; with A and B; with c,d,e; with c,d,e,f,g; with All ($144).

If you truly believe that one or two of the remaining horses among the "All" group on the fifth level have zero chance to crack the top five, you could reduce the cost somewhat. But this a risky option in a wager in which chaos is rewarded by higher payoffs for longshots that do crack the Super High Five.

w Situation C: You see an intense speed duel lurking and want to accent a few logical stretch runners in the top three positions.

Key horses A,B,C; with A,B,C; with A,B,C; with All on the fourth level - except for one of the pacesetters (good luck with that); with All - except for the pacesetter you eliminated on the fourth level (Total cost, $180).

If you choose to eliminate only one of the pacesetters on the fourth or fifth level, the cost would be $216. If you choose to use "All" on the fourth and fifth levels, the total cost would be $252.

Please note that if you expand the basic layout by one additional horse on the third level you will double the cost: A,B,C; with A,B,C; with A,B,C,D; with All less one horse ; with All less one horse ($360).

w Situation D: If you see a lone front-runner dominating the race, go back to Situation A and use one of those layouts. If you have sufficient capital, you might add a secondary $162 ticket to the original $162 combo by switching Key Horse A into the second-place position as below:

Companion ticket: Contenders b,c,d; with key horse A; with b,c,d,e; with b,c,d,e,f; with All (162 combinations, $162)

Along with the original $162 ticket that used key horse A in the win position, the total bet for the two tickets would be $324, an investment I would only consider when there is a carryover, as there was at Churchill Downs on May 7 and May 8, the first two days after the Kentucky Derby.

On May 7, with a carryover in excess of $331,000 no one hit the Super High Five and that set up a whopping Super High Five carryover of $866,712 for May 8.

I played that Super High Five with a slightly expanded variation of situation A.

There were 11 horses in the race. My tickets were:

Key horse A; with b,c,d,e; with b,c,d,e; with b,c,d,e,f,g; with All (252 combinations, $252); and b,c,d,e; with Key horse A; with b,c,d,e; with b,c,d,e,f,g; with All ($252)

Unfortunately, even though horse B won and key horse A finished second, with horse D third, I did not use horse "X" who finished fourth. Thus I missed out on a $35,000-plus winning ticket. But the experience contributed to my desire to get more involved.

Boxing five, six, or seven horses for the top five finishing positions is not a good wagering strategy for this bet any more than it is for the standard superfecta. Not only does it betray any insight into the race, but it wastes a lot of money by forcing you to leave out horses that could bust your ticket.

While a five-horse box means that all five of your horses must finish 1-2-3-4-5 at a cost of $120; a six horse, $1 Super High Five box would give you one extra horse to crack the top five at a cost of $720 and a seven horse $1 box would give you two extra horses to crack the top five at an exorbitant cost of $2,520. Not for me.

You might however, consider a more affordable variation of Situation A combined with a straight-up box, such as the two examples below:

Key horse A; with b,c,d,e,f; with b,c,d,e,f,g; with b,c,d,e,f,g; with b,c,d,e,f,g, at a cost of $300.

Or, key horse A; with b,c,d,e,f,g; with b,c,d,e,f,g; with b,c,d,e,f,g; with b,c,d,e,f,g at a cost of $360.

There are other alternatives to consider, of course, but none will be cheap, and you will need an iron constitution when you have the right key horse, the right major contenders, and yet still wind up with a few hundred dollars of losing tickets. That is the gamble here, and I have to say that Frank Stronach, the oft-criticized president of Magna Entertainment Inc., deserves some credit for tapping into that, for taking a chance on his own, implementing a brand new wager that has some exciting possibilities.